2009-2010 Basketball: Salisbury boys preview
By Ronnie Gallagher
Everyone expected the Salisbury boys basketball team to be very good last year.
No one expected great.
This year, there are great expectations at Salisbury, even though coach Jason Causby lost two of his most important players: point guard Thaddeus Williams and scorer Brandon Abel.
“I don’t care how talented you are, you still have to fill those voids,” said Causby, now in his seventh year. “But we have as much talent as any of my prior six years.”
Salisbury won its second straight Christmas title last season. It won the Central Carolina Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Hornets, who lost their opener to South Rowan before reeling off 28 straight wins, even spent the last half of the year ranked No. 1 in the state.
Many of the same faces return, led by Darien Rankin, who should be the leader of the team even though he’s just a junior.
Rankin averaged 22 points in his first three games before finishing at 15.7. The 6-foot-1 slasher hit double figures in 28 of 30 games, hitting a high of 26 points three times.
“People will key on him,” Causby said. “But he’s an unselfish player. He’s a great passer. He’s a great defender, too.”
Rankin must fill the shoes of Abel, who finished as the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer.
“Abel intimidated with his name,” Causby said. “Darien assumes that role.”
Rankin is one of four returning juniors who will have an impact. Guards John Knox and Romar Morris, along with center Alex Weant, will be the core of the team.
The talented Morris, a 5-10 track and football star, probably places basketball third on his list of priorities. But that’s fine with Causby. He still produces as a defensive stopper and occasional scorer.
“He draws the opposition’s best player, whether big guy or little guy,” Causby said. “Most people think he can’t shoot.”
Don’t tell that to Davie County or South Rowan. Morris put up 14 points against each.
Knox, a 5-9 guard, started off and on last season and Causby knows he might be the team’s most important player. He has to go to point guard to replace Williams.
“John shoulders the biggest load,” Causby said. “He’s more offensive than Thad. Now, John has to get other people in position to score.”
Knox’s best game was his last, a 19-point effort in the sectional final loss to East Lincoln.
The 6-7 Weant is stronger by playing a season of football. The three-year varsity player should have his best year and exceed his 4.9 scoring average.
“He’s the most experienced post player coming back,” Causby said. “He’ll be carrying the inside load Abel leaves behind. You can tell he’s getting stronger and more confident.”
Causby calls 6-1 senior Jahaan Hailey, “the best- kept secret in the county.” He is a deadly outside shooter who averaged 10 points last season.
“He could lead us in scoring the way he shoots the ball,” Causby said. “He’ll have some ballhandling responsibilities. He’ll play the 1 or 2.”
Dominique Phillips, a senior, and Morris are interchangeable, according to the coach. As the sixth man, Phillips brought energy off the bench and, when needed, scoring. He proved that when he scored 20 points against Ledford after Abel went down with an ankle injury. His 7.2 scoring average could easily increase.
“He finishes around the rim,” Causby said. “He could be a block guy.”
Three other juniors are guards Forrest Wilkins and Cory Murphy as well as 6-4 Skip Wood.
Wilkins can light it up.
“If Jahaan is our best shooter, then he’s our second best,” Causby said. “Skip gives us another big body.”
Three sophomores are on the roster: 6-0 guard Dejoun Jones, 5-11 guard Tion McCain and 6-8 center Tony Nunn.
Jones was the leading scorer on the jayvee team and is in the mold of Morris and Phillips.
“They could be a three-headed monster to attack other teams,” Causby said.
McCain, the second-leading scorer on jayvee, will back up Knox, and Causby said, “he’s in position to be our next true point guard.”
Causby likes what he sees in Nunn, saying, “Every minute of every practice, he gets better.”
As if Causby doesn’t have enough big men in Weant, Nunn and Wood, he is keeping 6-7 freshman Tyler Petty on the varsity. Causby likens him to Dirk Nowitzki.
“At 6-7, he’s not necessarily a post guy,” Causby said. “He handles the ball and hits the 3-pointer.”
Petty isn’t the only freshman on varsity. Jquille Tracey, a 6-3 leaper, was seen dunking with ease at practice.
This year, Salisbury might not have to wait until midway through the season to be ranked No. 1 in the state. If it happens, Causby sees the honor as years of nurturing these players.
“We saw a lot of these guys back in the sixth and seventh grades at Knox,” he said. “We took them to camps. Last year, it all came together.”
Salisbury took a big step toward the big picture.
“I feel we’re not where we want to be,” Causby said. “We won 28 in a row and we brought home some hardware. But we need to make a regional. That’s a whole different experience.”
The Hornets must also prove they can come through despite that target on their back.
“Our strength is team athleticism,” Causby said. “We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle back.”
Enough pieces to make Salisbury a very good basketball team.
Or just maybe, a great basketball team.